London, Racket, 2011, 266p
After the Christmas break, I fell back into teen fiction with a bang. The Cornerstone is an original and clever adventure, taking you to an alternative world where books hold the ultimate power.
Spalding's novel begins on a rainy Thursday afternoon, when Max Bloom walks into his local public library in search of a cure to his boredom. He wouldn't usually opt for the library, but something beyond his control has drawn him here - something that takes him into the Chapter Lands.
As aforementioned in my entry about The Eyre Affair, I adore stories about world where literature and language are loved and worshipped. In the Chapter Lands, words are powerful. People are trained as Wordsmiths, so they can draw power from books and knowledge. Libraries are protected by armed guards; and education is highly valued, yet only available to a select few, due to fears over giving such power to the people.
Nick Spalding is an entertaining writer, mixing comedy into the action throughout the story. He writes like an omniscient narrator, but is light-hearted and friendly. You get the impression that this story took over him - he did not create it, but was led by it. He has a great appreciation for literature, and clearly loves an adventure.
However, I feel Spalding and his publishers missed a trick with this book. The title refers to the Cornerstone, a book that literally opens up into another world. Using the Cornerstone, Max can step from our world into the Chapter Lands. It is described as old, heavy, and a rich dark green colour. If only the published version of Spalding's story had the same appearance.
Where The Cornerstone succeeds in creating excitement and adventure around literature and language, it fails to deviate from the stereotypes of the librarian. The Head Custodian of the Carvallen library in the Chapter Lands is nicknamed Gandalf, whilst the head of the public library is a middle-aged woman who wears trouser suits and has a bun. She also reads romances. Spalding defines her main duty as chasing overdues.
Fortunately, this public librarian proves to be a powerful woman (secretly, we all are - be warned); but I would love to have seen a fictional librarian who doesn't tie her hear up in a bun. Nevertheless, any book that places literature in such high esteem - donning it with such power - is a winner for me.